Back to work

This week I went back to work.  It was one of the hardest weeks of my life.  I cried. I was tired. I was grumpy.  I was a terrible wife and barely spoke to my husband at all (sorry Monsieur FF).  But you know what: I survived.  WE survived.

I was really happy to be back in the office: to see colleagues; to check emails; to read without interruption; to wear something that didn’t get covered in food and dribble (at least not until  I got home), to have a hot drink, a leisurely lunch, and sit down and talk business. Not babies.  Mais that’s not to say I didn’t miss my bébé like crazy. I did. I was beyond excited to get home and grab him.  I actually ran (hobbled: new shoes #error) to nursery to dramatically throw down my bag, fling my shoes at some poor child and embrace him.  But, honestly, it was nice to have both work time and bebe time.  This is how life is going to be now. I am a working mum. And I am going to embrace it.

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Back to work selfie

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This post is hard to write.  Whatever I say in here are my very personal thoughts, specific to me and my life, about going to work and having a baby in someone else’s care.  But I’m not alone.  There are so many people out there in a similar position, whether you are a mum, or a dad, trying to work out how to balance your “old” life with this new, exciting but terribly demanding one.

There are also loads of topics that could be covered by the post, predominantly focused on the impossible choices that (mainly) women face as professionals and mothers.  However, I don’t yet feel capable of broaching that one, not least because I can’t see an easy solution.  It’s just bloody hard.  Désolée.

I’m sure somewhere along the line someone is going to be offended by what I say.  I apologise.  This is such a sensitive subject  it is incredibly hard to discuss it without getting into the minutiae of your individual situation (your career/your current role/your family/your income/your aims in life/your marriage etc.)   I’m going to be frank because I think it’s important to document my journey, but also because I’m one of the lucky ones :  I work for a very flexible company and in a flexible team. More about that shortly.

When you have a baby, deciding if and when to go back to work is a massive deal.  Deciding on what basis to go back is complicated, not least because it is not just your decision.  Some people don’t have much choice because their child needs 24/7 care.  Some people don’t have much choice because they are the main breadwinner in the family.  Some employers don’t offer many real options.  There are so many factors in play, it’s really quite mind-boggling.  Not to mention the fact that, chances are, you are not exactly desperate to get back to work work (as opposed to all the hard but super rewarding mum work (which includes lots of cake and cute baby clothes)).

Deciding who is qualified to look after your bebe is like trying to decide who is qualified to run the country. That’s right: no-one.  But there are only a finite number of nurseries, or nannies, or childminders, and there are even fewer options that will fit with a reasonable commute and your financial viability.  I’ve always struggled with the concept of “paying to work” which is the bizarre situation you find yourself in when assessing whether to go back to work.  Unless you are in the very privileged position of having free childcare (usually down to amazing and local grandparents or relatives) or a job that pays a freaking fortune, or you’re just a straight-up millionaire, you are essentially paying to do your job because by the time you deduct the costs of having someone else care for your child, you’re probably barely breaking even.

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The whole subject has actually made me feel quite uncomfortable.  I have questioned myself on an hourly basis for the past month.  What am I doing? Why am I doing it?  If you asked me on what basis I was going back to work, you will have seen me pull a strange face as I reply “full time” and cast my eyes down.  I say “strange” because even I can’t recognise what emotion I’m experiencing… is it guilt?  Is it embarrassment?  Is it sadness?  Most likely it is confusion tbh. I literally don’t know how I feel.

Yes, I’ve gone back to work, and I’m going to do my job full time.  I work in London and like most people I have a commute of the best part of an hour.  So when I finish work in the office, I then need another hour to get back to bebe FF.  You are probably judging me right now. Analysing my decision. Not necessarily in a negative way, but you are wondering why and what led me to that decision, right?  I would be doing exactly the same.  Does she love her job that much? Can they not afford any other option?  Did she not have the option to do part time? Does she not like being a mother??!

Right – just to be clear – I absolutely adore being a mum.  

It is literally the best thing in the world ever.

See – bold, large and colour. Seriously. This is the shizzle. I could not feel luckier. Not a day goes past where I am not overwhelmed by the miracle that is Bebe FF, astonished by how much I love him, delighted by how happy I am in our little family unit, amused by his little bottom and tiny teef, amazed by how quickly he is growing and… scared.  Scared of life happening.

Notwithstanding all the above, I also enjoy being a lawyer.  I love my job. I worked hard to become a lawyer and get this job. I’m a professional woman in a global business.  Oh and the business is a toy company, the LEGO Group to be precise. You may well be familiar with it. The plastic bricks that last forever?  The ones that hurt when you walk on them? That’s us. I’m one of many lucky people to be employed by the Danish super brand and I should be rather proud of it.  My job is exciting and it is demanding.  To do it well, I believe that I need to be available most of the time.  In my experience thus far, it is also incredibly flexible.  Not only does the LEGO Company embrace flexible working, they positively encourage it.

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Bebe FF’s first trip to the office age 3 months – suspect he will be more excited about it in the future.

We don’t have a designated desk in our office.  We are taught “Activity Based Working”, to mix and mingle across departments and functional areas, and we are encouraged to work from home as often as we deem appropriate, provided we are able to perform our function, and judge when a meeting can be conducted from the office and when it can be handled remotely.  I know some people* struggle with the concept of “flexible working” (*the majority of UK employers for starters, and generations before us that aren’t so au fait with modern technology and still think sending a fax is high tech…)  It requires a level of trust and a recognition that a positive and enthusiastic workforce is good for productivity and, therefore, business.  Naturally there are financial advantages for the employers too, not just happy and driven, productive workers, but lower costs (rent, bills, general sustenance).  You need the right tools for it to work efficiently – flexible work spaces, portable laptops and remote video conf capability etc. but all of this stuff is so easily available nowadays, I find it hard to understand why it isn’t more widely adopted as a working standard.

Alas. There are plenty of people out there who aren’t as lucky as us LEGO UK employees, and who are having to fight for their employers to even consider more flexible working.  Check out Mother Pukka for starters.  Her Flex Appeal campaign is brilliant.  It’s all rather ridiculous when you look at the stats: clearly a flexible workforce is a happy workforce, and a happy workforce is far more productive than a morose bunch of reluctant 9-5 workers. Flexible working means working in a way that best suits you as an individual. As Mother Pukka puts it:

Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work.

Self-evidently, if your employer gives you the flexibility to work the hours that fit in to your situation, then you are all the more likely to feel satisfied, and put in the hours and show the commitment to your employer – that improves your work and ethos, and their staff turnover (and all the costs associated with hiring and up-skilling new staff).  Also, critically for parents, it means you can work around your childcare.  Most people are awake for, let’s say 14 – 16 hours per day.  There’s no reason why all the fun stuff has to be crammed into the middle 8 hours is there?!

Family is a priority at LEGO, and having a REAL work life balance is considered to be a true demonstration of success.  It is perfectly normal and commonplace for the office to be near empty by 5pm.  Why?  Everyone has gone to pick up their kids, to spend some time with them before bedtime.  That doesn’t mean they have finished working for the day.  But working on the report due on Friday can be done anytime between now and Friday. Why not do it after the kids’ bedtime.  You are not rushing and you feel happy*.

(*Presupposes bedtime was a success and you don’t have a romantic diner a deux planned)

So, now you know that I am working full time, but it is not like most versions of full time that exist today in the UK.  I told you, I’m very lucky and I know it.

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For the avoidance of doubt

Also, on another note, I have taken 8 months of maternity leave – I could take up to a year and be guaranteed my job on my return.  I have friends in America who were lucky to get 3 months of maternity leave (apparently it can be as little as 6 weeks if your labour is “normal”). Likewise in France, a mere trois mois. THREE MONTHS.  WTF. I’m not being over dramatic when I say I don’t think my body had even recovered after 3 months, let alone my brain being functional and ready to juggle the challenges of motherhood and a career.  What kind of world do we live in?! The NHS encourages and promotes breastfeeding for the full first 6 months of a baby’s life. How do you manage that and be back at work? And I assume given the lack of flexibility on maternity leave, those American employers aren’t likely to be terribly flexible with the working hours either, or having a creche in the office…?

In any case, ladies, whenever you go back and if you go back, or decide not to, respect to you. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this quandary and whatever you do, I hope you make the most of it.

Well folks thats all I’ve got for now. I’m just embarking on the journey and have a tough road ahead.  Bugs, sickness, work travel, socialising, emotional breakdowns, impossible decisions at home and work, brain failure… so much still to navigate.  But I leave you with this: My good friend, fellow lawyer and producer of Bebe FF’s birthday girlfriend (one hour before Bebe FF to be precise) Claire, shared with me a tip that was imparted on her as she rejoined her legal job, also full time, and a couple of months before us.  She said I should do the following:

  • when you are travelling in to work, think about something you are looking forward to; a meeting with a colleague, a nice lunch, a new exciting project.
  • on your way home, as you dash to pick up your precious little one(s) in time, focus on something you’ve done that day that you are proud of; concluding a project, some positive feedback, a significant learning, a job well done.

This will help remind you why this challenging time isn’t just about battling through and feeling guilty, it’s about being proud of yourself and your achievements, and making the most of each day.

 

 

Badass

This is how you feel when you take a 7 month old on a 10 hour flight (x 2, plus delays) and come out (a) alive (b) not covered in sick (c) with the same number of grey hairs (d)  still married and (e) with other passengers smiling and commenting on how great your bebe is.

We did it.  We went long haul and we had an epic time.  Yes, it was a massive headache preparing and packing; yes, it was weird being somewhere super hot and not sunbathing, and yes, it was strange not going out late in the evenings, drinking and raving.  Because Monsieur FF and I used to rave all.the.time.  But sacré bleu it was joyous.

Bébé FF swam through magical cold water cenotes, saw Miss America Latina, talked to parrots, patted iguanas, visited the Mayan ruins in Tulum and Xcaret, rode facing forward in a cab, and even sans seat (eek), slept in a swanky steak restaurant, ate fresh avocado, cucumber and melon (or at least touched and licked convincingly), swam with fish in the sea, tried a coconut, acquired a significant number of Mexican girlfriends and by all accounts had a pretty fantastical time.  Gracias!

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Senorita Mamacita

As you know, we enjoy travelling. Most people gawped at us when we said we were going to  Mexico, like “do you remember that time you gave birth to a BABY? IS HE STAYING BEHIND?!”  Er nope. He is coming. It’s called an adventure and we love them. However, “we” (mostly me) also recognise there is a lot of work and forethought involved in long haul travel, so you have to put the time in. Some people (*some people*) think you can wing it. Maybe a mix of both approaches is best. The type of  things that I don’t worry about day to day in my house in the UK that suddenly become concerning in a hotel resort in Mexico: water, milk source, baby friendly food, washing, sterilising, sleeping, swimming, bugs and mosquitos, safe travelling, general safety! Etc. So pretty much everything. Long haul avec bébé requires a lot of packing and unless you’re very brave with food and milk, careful planning and rationing. Listen to me! I can’t even plan my own dinner! 10 days worth of weaning friendly food and milk, milk receptacles and hot weather clothing was slightly mind-boggling. But we managed, and even had stuff spare! (In our three large luggage cases … ahem).

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During the planning and run up to the trip I was listening out for useful tips and learning as much as possible from other seasoned bebe travellers.One major tip I was given was to travel with bebe before he is crawling.  That was a good tip.  He was quite content to sit in the chair, on my lap or lie in the little cot bed on the plane without wriggling around too much.  He was content playing on his playmat in our hotel room whilst we got bits ready.  He’s trying to crawl but we are absolutely not encouraging it!

Another helpful tip I’ve mentioned before was to buy liquid milk supplies after security at the airport – you can preorder milk from Boots. We did this and had a good supply for each flight.

For those wanting to brave the wild wild wilderness of the world outside your country, here are a few tips, first on the actual travel part:

  1. get to the airport early and ensure they know you are travelling avec infant. It sounds obvious to us, as our little bundles rule our worlds, but the planes only have a set number of infant friendly seats and even fewer at the front with space for the portable bed/chair.  The person checking you in doesn’t care if you face many, many hours on a plane with a grizzly tired baby on your lap.  Be polite and firm and ensure you get a suitable space.  On our initial flight there were both chairs and cotbeds available, on the way back only a chair (looks like a bouncer) – we tested both and both were good. The chair was secured, safe, helpful sleeping material and the cotbed provided a little space Bébé FF could have his toys and play quietly.
  2. Take quiet, non violent toys and snacks that aren’t too messy – we love the Kiddylicious rice crackers as they are totally mess and stick free and very easy to bite and swallow. The mini rice cakes are also pretty good and were happily tossed on the floor when gummed enough. Slightly awks when you see it stuck to the air hostesses skirt, but if you will lean in a coo then you have to deal with the consequences 🙂 I say “non violent” because when a passenger realises he’s sitting in close proximity to a baby for 10 hours, he’s likely to be slightly aggrieved. When he is smacked around the head with a plastic rattle, has to clamber around a dumper truck to go to the loo and finds a teething ring in his dinner he’s going to go apesh1t. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Cuddly toys, small simple chew toys and things that can be safely affixed to something (with dummy ties) work well.
  3. Make sure Bebe is in comfy but sufficiently warm clothes, onesies / PJs are easy and help Bebe ease into sleep mode – the plane temperatures fluctuate but tend to be chilly I find. My legendary big and thin wool scarf/blanket was great for keeping me and Bebe FF at a snuggly temperature.
  4. Try not to stress. Ha! Pot, kettle. I know.  But if you stress, Bebe stresses and then all hell breaks loose. We had a few slightly fraught moments where we had trays of food and drinks and turbulence meaning Bebe FF had to come out of the carrycot and onto a lap – luckily Monsieur FF took the hit and managed to pile everything up around himself so that I was mobile to get the little man. Unfortunately our BA flight was very slow on the service and Monsieur FF was actually contemplating whether he could squeeze into a nappy when he was finally freed from his castle of carton and crusty stale bread to excuse himself to le toilette.  Anyway, keep your sh1t together. Literally.

 

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keep it in here

Tips whilst you are away:

  • you might not have a kettle (i know – who doesn’t drink tea seriously?!) or microwave and water may not be suitable for drinking so think about how you are going to clean/sterilise. We used bottled water which we heated through the cafetière. We used the cold water sterilising bags and Milton sterilising tablets. Check out my Instagram for more details:@be_my_bebe

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  • the milk powder might get sticky if you’re somewhere humid. Ours did and we ended up keeping it in the fridge. It was fine and Bebe FF guzzled it down but be careful as it can go off. Also watch out for little ants and creepy crawlies trying to make the container their new home. Yuk.
  • with fruit and food generally think about where you are and whether the not-so-clean tap water could have been used to rinse. The resort that we were in was fine but I wouldn’t have given him anything “freshly washed” outside.
  • bugs and mosquitos in particular are a pain in the arse. Literally. If like me you are insanely tasty and irrisistible to the blood guzzlers you need to lather yourself in sprays. We used some supposedly natural oil based bracelet things which were relatively effective on the limb they were closest to. After having my left leg mauled by 50 mozzies I started sporting an attractive anklet look. Fluorescent green (my desire to coordinate was quickly thwarted by the yellow blue green choices). FYI the bracelets can also double up as hair bands. I attached some of these to the pram and babybjorn. Babies and deet don’t mix well so we avoided spraying Bebe FF directly with our boots repellent product and instead tried to keep him under the mosquito net when out and about in the pram. When he was with me, I was prime target so he was safe. Motherly self-sacrifice. He didn’t seem to get bitten so it worked.
  • take some napisan and/or washing products with you in a mini container or take samples. Stains stick, and smelly milky stuff smells decidedly worse 10 days later. We managed a couple of washes of bits and luckily had no major poo dramas so felt pretty pleased with myself.

All in all we had a brilliant trip, we achieved so much and Bebe FF seemed très content for the whole duration.

We chanced things a few times and were glad we did. If you go in with low expectations and an open mind you will probably be pleasantly surprised. We went to a show about the history of Mexico one evening, with a dinner service, and expected to leave after the first few minutes.You should have seen our delighted and slightly smug faces when bebe FF decided to nod off at the start of the two hour performance and we were able to enjoy a multi-course dinner whilst watching the spectacle; he napped on the seat next to me oblivious. The ear defenders or “snugs” worked a treat.

It’s not worth thinking about what you’re “missing” when on holiday with a bebe. You’re not missing going out and drinking or burning yourself in the sun, you’re experiencing the trials and tribulations of a new place with your new person, where everything is new for them. And you’re bloody lucky too! We managed to enjoy many a margarita and cerveza – just mostly during the day and early evening 😁

So we’re there any downsides? Yes. Jet lag.

West to East is hard. Since we’ve been home we have had some jet lag issues, I’m not going to lie. The first couple of nights we had a very active and awake little trooper from 8pm-1 am, the very time we wanted to be asleep. Usually he’s down at 7.30pm. We had a very sleepy little guy at 9am that had to be woken up and really wanted to nap until 1pm.  He’s been teary and confused.  It’s been hard and he’s out of sorts.  We are too.  It’s called post-holiday blues. But we are coming out the other side. Ish. We’ve also started the initiation to nursery and working life (URGH), and transitioned to formula full time so it’s been a very challenging week. But more of that next time… Besos X

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Babywheels – the Venicci 3-in-1 travel system

I have been asked to do a review of the Venicci baby-mobile.  This was the “travel system” we chose to transport Bebe FF in his first months on the outside.  When we were looking, as I mentioned, we found all the information out there to be a bit confusing and unnecessarily complex; the car seat and adapter situation in particular.  There weren’t many helpful reviews and by their nature the reviews were super subjective (or sponsored) so it was hard to take much from them.

Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  So, to add to the confusion, here’s my subjective review of the Venicci 3-in-1 system.  Hopefully it will at least answer some questions – and if not feel free to ask.

Our “travel system” criteria were:

  • sturdy – i’m not being OTT here but I just grew a whole baby in my tummy, it took 9+ months (and the rest) and sh!tload of energy – he was safe and protected in there – if I have to put him in a box on wheels, and push him around the bumpy, dangerous and broken pavements of Britain, I want sturdy!
  • suspension – ref the aforementioned pavements
  • tall – we are not giants by any stretch (even stretching wouldn’t help) but being hunched over and lifting bebe from a low starting point didn’t appeal
  • portable for weedy, tiny weeny arm muscles
  • easy to assemble – for tired, delirious parents
  • weatherproof – Britain
  • not insanely expensive – it’s not an actual car
  • a bit different

I believe it was my sister Em who first sent me a link to the Venicci promo clip. You could be forgiven for thinking it was a joke.  A lady with high heels that Christian Louboutin would be proud of, painted nails and a mini skirt demonstrates how to assemble the different parts of the pram. I hadn’t heard of Venicci, and I can’t say the video massively swayed me to purchase, but it did give me new hope about the world of motherhood and, ok, it did look like it could potentially do the job.  I put the dramatic filmography down to “being Italian” and carried on with the endless research.

Anyway, long story short we had the romantic trips to test lots of the obvious models in M&P’s, Mothercare and, of course, John Lewis.  But we couldn’t decide, and always found more negatives than positives for each one.   So in the end (i.e. 3 months before bebe FF was due to arrive) we just went for it and ordered the Venicci online, without physically seeing one or testing it (we’re crazy like that).

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Venicci

So what did we think? I’ll break it down into pros and cons.

PROS

  • the flatbed/bassinet/carrycot thingy (what are they actually called?!) was great.  Strong, warm, snuggly if you add a lambskin in there, big enough for bebe FF to sleep in until 5-6 months old, which is pretty good going (some babies grow out of them around 3 months).  It has an adjustable base so if bebe has a cough or as they start to want to see more, you can elevate the head area.  It also can be folded down flatfish for storage, and to squish in the boot. Bebe FF liked being in there so much that in the early days he would sleep in there downstairs, or even upstairs when he decided he didn’t like the moses basket.  Or his crib.  Coquin.
  • the frame is super sturdy.  There are no issues weighing it down with many mummy clips and your changing bag along with hundreds of bags of shopping (would I?!).
  • the suspension is excellent. Bebe FF is comfy riding his venicci and not being projected out into the road or having his two teef clattering against … his gums.
  • the handle bar is adjustable so catering to our giant needs.  It is easy to get it to a comfortable height.
  • the various pieces clip onto the frame easily – clips are in red, and you can clip and unclip one side at a time which is significantly easier than having to do the double whammy, especially when you’re balancing bebe on your hip!
  • The brake is very simple to use, a pedal on the chassis which is easily accessible.
  • The wheels come with covers (we immediately lost them), and there is also a rain cover (very handy) and a mosquito net (also MIA within minutes of being unpacked – Boots do a good back-up).
  • The basket size is fair, it’s not enormous but it seems to be as big if not slightly bigger than the competition. It is quite deep so things stay in.  I can fit my change bag in there, plus back up blanket and rain cover.  Occasionally a pizza comes sipping out but that’s my fault for overloading 🙂
  • We went for the white frame as it was a bit different and I’m glad we did. Purely aesthetically it is joyous.  Plus my mum always told me to try to “stand out in the dark” which explains a luminous white michelin puffa jacket I wore for most of my teens.
  • It has a cup holder, or “roadie” holder, which we dedicate to our Texas friends – handy for the endless water drinking required for feeding.
  • the price – the Venicci when we got it was just over £500 including the travel seat adapters.  That seemed like a reasonable middle of the road price, compared to say the “egg” which looked fabulous but was over £1,000 before you even added on the cotbed. As it turns out, I’m glad we didn’t spend more, as it won’t be in significant use for much longer.  As soon as you can use a stroller, you will!
  • Colour combos – quite simple but good, strong quality materials. Being semi-Parisienne we went for black with white chassis. I sometimes regret the choice of black as it is a bit morose in the sunlight, but I don’t think there were many other options when we bought it – it seems there are a few more now, and also a silver chassis.  I was nervous about getting a light colour, but I think the material would wear pretty well and stay clean.

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CONS

  • It is pretty heavy.  If you want strong and sturdy, you have to accept some weight.  I managed fine, but now I have the choice between the Venicci and the ultra-light Babyzen yoyo stroller, I know which my arms prefer.  The Venicci is still the vehicle of choice for local strolls and park trips, but it is a pain hauling it in and out of the boot.
  • The chair part is messy.  I can’t quite put my finger on what is wrong with it, it just doesn’t look very comfy or slick.  Bebe FF is happy enough in there, and it can go forwards facing or facing mummy, although he seems to slump over a bit.  He likes putting his feet on the bar. But the hood and straps in particular look a bit cheap, for want of a better word.  The seat does recline and goes fairly upright.  It has a foot / body muff but it’s not very thick or lined, so unlike some of the competition would definitely require an additional blanket.
  • I don’t like the fastener on the chair – it is the type that catches your skin and gives you blood blisters. I’ve shouted merde! a few times…
  • The car seat is a bit of a waste of space as it’s very basic. There is limited padding in there and the material is the same as the rest of the set, i.e. sturdy and rough and not necessarily what you want rubbing up against your newborn’s delicate skin.  Most people I’ve spoken to opted for the MaxiCosi as their carseat, as others don’t really compare to the safety standards.  In any case you need to get the isofix base.  I think you can buy the set without the car seat, which would obviously save a bit of money – we didn’t know we could do that so didn’t explore that option.

So, from a quick squiz of the number of respective pros and cons, it is apparent that the Venicci, in my very humble opinion, was a good choice.

Any more specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Bisous